mel torme

Mel Tormé was a genuine Renaissance man -- one of the top jazz singers of the last third of the century but also a superb writer, a good arranger, a more-than-competent drummer, a songwriter with a number of standards to his credit, a versatile actor, and a most engaging raconteur. Known in his youth as the "Velvet Fog" for his high, murky, sustained vocals, Mel Tormé gradually developed into a first-class jazz baritone with great scatting ability, superb control and a sophisticated way with ballads. Indeed, his voice actually grew stronger and more flexible in his later years, shedding old mannerisms and developing an ever-more-powerful sense of swing. Though Mel Tormé noted that it took him an agonizingly long time to write them, his arrangements for orchestra and big band are sonorous and intelligently conceived. Furthermore, Mel Tormé was probably as fine a writer as he is a singer; his autobiography It Wasn't All Velvet, his memoir of Judy Garland The Other Side of the Rainbow and his biography of his friend Buddy Rich Traps, The Drum Wonder, are compulsively readable, chatty, and full of insight.

He started very early -- singing in Chicago's Blackhawk club at the age of four, acting professionally at nine, publishing his first tune at 15, joining the Chico Marx band as a wise-cracking singer, vocal arranger and drummer at 16. At 19, he assured himself of immortality by co-writing "The Christmas Song," which in the wake of Nat King Cole's 1946 hit record has become an imperishable holiday standard. In the 1940s, Mel Tormé began recording for Decca, Musicraft and Capitol, backed by his own vocal group the Mel-Tones, the Artie Shaw band, the Page Cavanaugh Trio and various studio orchestras. Amidst several parallel careers in show business and literature, he continued to refine his vocal abilities through the decades. Although Mel Tormé's star dimmed somewhat in the 1960s when rock overwhelmed the music business, a series of fine, uncompromising albums for Concord Jazz from 1982 onward boosted his reputation in the jazz world -- and the mass media caught on thanks to exposure on the hit TV series Night Court, where he played himself. Mel Tormé continued to sing in top form into the mid-'90s, but a stroke suffered in August 1996 while recording a tribute album to Ella Fitzgerald effectively ended his career; he died in Los Angeles on June 5, 1999 at the age of 73.



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